The Minnesota Wild’s season should have come to an end on Monday night in Las Vegas.
Holding a two-goal lead entering the second period, Dean Evason’s team attempted to give the Golden Knights a gift by taking the next 20 minutes off. Vegas outshot the Wild 22-1 and rarely allowed the visiting team to touch the puck.
The Wild should have been embarrassed. Instead, they ended up getting lucky.
Somehow Minnesota only gave up only one goal — goalie Cam Talbot stood on his head just as he did in a Game 1 victory — and held on in the third period for a 4-2 victory in Game 5 of their first-round playoff series. Minnesota trails the Golden Knights, 3-2, with Game 6 set for Wednesday night at Xcel Energy Center.
The Wild was outshot 33-7 over the final 40 minutes and relied on Talbot to be a miracle worker (which he was) in goal. Minnesota was not able to breathe easy until Nico Sturm banked a puck off the boards and into an empty net at 19:21 of the third period.
While the Wild’s second-period disappearance was inexcusable and perplexing, it actually fit into how Minnesota has played in this series since returning home for Game 3. It was in that game that the Wild played an outstanding first period, taking a 2-0 lead, that appeared to be 3-0 before Joel Eriksson’s Ek goal was overturned on review because the plays was offsides.
The Wild collapsed after that in a 5-2 loss. There was no bounce back in Game 4 as the Golden Knights cruised to a 4-0 victory at the X. That loss included another disallowed Eriksson Ek goal — this time Marcus Foligno was called for goalie interference on Marc-Andre Fleury — but that mattered little considering how Vegas handled Minnesota.
There might have been a point where it was easy to say that Vegas was simply the superior team, but that isn’t true. The Wild played poorly in the first period of Game 1 but bounced back in the second and took a 1-0 lead in the series on Eriksson Ek’s overtime goal against Fleury. Fleury then was spectacular in Game 2 in the Golden Knights’ 3-1 win.
The Wild had nothing to apologize for in that loss and, in fact, played their most complete game of the series. So how do you explain Minnesota’s drop off in performance in the final five periods in St. Paul and then again in the second period on Monday?
General manager Bill Guerin deserves credit for putting together a Wild team that overachieved during the regular season and definitely had a different feel and attitude than Wild clubs of recent years. Coach Dean Evason did a good job of getting the most out of a team that finally has a superstar talent in Kirill Kaprizov. Kaprizov got his first goal of the playoffs on Monday in the opening period and played far better than he did in the Wild’s losses in Games 3 and 4.
But what’s so hard to figure out is the Wild’s roller-coaster performances where you don’t know what to expect from one period to the next. Yes, Vegas is good but this has more to do with the Wild than anyone else.
What would happen if the Wild played a complete game? What if Evason had an answer in the second period Monday that would have allowed his team to slow Vegas instead of standing around and watching the Golden Knights control the puck and get shot after shot on Talbot? It doesn’t seem to be that big of ask for Minnesota to play 60 minutes in which it performs somewhere between what it did in the first and third period on Monday but nothing like it did in the second.
That type of performance could result in the series returning to Vegas for Game 7. Unfortunately, the Wild haven’t shown themselves to be capable of that type of consistency and have basically left large portions of each game in Talbot’s hands.
Do that again on Wednesday and the Wild likely will be heading home for the summer. Put together a complete performance and all of the pressure will be on the favored Golden Knights.